Seeking first back-to-back Test wins since 2002
When West Indies toured England in 1973, they had not won any of the 20 Tests they had played in seven years and after losing their inaugural ODI, a revival looked bleak.
However, by the end of the 3-Test series they had won at Lords and the Oval after drawing the opening Test.
That series started West Indies’ dominance, including back-to-back World Cups (1975 & 1979) and an unbeaten streak of not losing a single Test series for 15 years after their controversial defeat in New Zealand in 1980.
But even before the West Indies lost to Australia on home soil in 1995 the team was already showing signs of unraveling.
Now, with West Indies cricket in tatters due to poor performances and countless off-the-field controversy, their first Test win in Guyana since 1998 (first in 18 Tests since they beat England in 2009) has inspired hope. However, one swallow does not make a summer.
The 40-run win at Providence was well deserved in a riveting low-scoring contest in which Mishab Ul Haq’s 52 was the only half-century.
But it is hard to imagine the pitch here (or the ones for the India series to follow) being as advantageous to the bowlers as the Providence surface.
The win in Guyana, which ensured Pakistan and Sri Lanka remain the only Test teams without a Test series win in the Caribbean, should inspire hope, especially since Sammy, desperate to justify his selection led from the front with his fourth 5-wicket haul and a Man-of-the-Match performance.
West Indies hope to win back-to-back Tests against a higher ranked team for the first time since they beat
Australia in Jamaica and Barbados in 1999.
The only other time West Indies won consecutive Tests since then was when they beat Bangladesh in Dhaka and Chittagong in 2002.
While the Guyana Test was a battle of attrition and the bowlers reveled in the conditions, Warner Park should provide welcome reprieve for the batsmen. The only two Tests here were high-scoring draws.
In 2006 when Warner Park made its debut Test, Gayle and Ramnaresh Sarwan got hundreds in a total of 581. VVS Laxman responded with a ton as India reached 362 in their first innings before the first four batsmen all got fifties in India’s second innings of 298-4.
Last year South Africa made 543-6 declared with Smith, Kallis and De Villiers making centuries. The hosts responded with 446 as Shiv Chanderpaul (166) and Brendon Nash (114) added 220 for the 4th wicket.
The experience of Chanderpaul was crucial in West Indies building a winning total in Guyana and like in the last Test in St Kitts, the left-handed veteran of 130 Tests and 22 centuries, could be the key to nullifying the wiles of off-spinner Saeed Ajmal and pacer Umar Gul, who looked below par in Guyana.
Chanderpaul, an International cricketer for 17 years, claims Gibson’s intrusive Coaching style affected his performance in the World Cup. The two will now need to reconcile for the sake of team unity.
Gibson should remember that Chanderpaul is the team’s most senior and successful player and also pay attention to what he says to the media, especially since Chanderpaul and Gayle (available for the India series) are still important assets to the team.
Both teams are rebuilding. If they are considered light weights on the field they are heavyweights when it comes to controversy.
Leading spinner Suleiman Benn was not selected for West Indies due to his ‘poor World Cup report’ while Danish Kaneria, Pakistan’s leading Test wicket-taker, has not played internationals since last summer because he has not been cleared by the integrity committee, newly-formed in the wake of the Lord’s spot-fixing scandal.
The prolific Mohammed Yousuf was banned for life by the PCB last year while Younis Khan had to leave the Caribbean without playing a match due to his brother’s death. Gayle and Jerome Taylor, deemed unfit by the WICB, are in the IPL instead of in West Indies colors.
Mohammed Hafeez scored a ton in 2006 in Pakistan when the teams last met in a Test series but failed twice on the treacherous Guyana track. Taufeeq Umar, Asad Shafik, Azar Ali and the dashing Umar Akmal will need to support the solid Ul Haq in a team in which Younis Khan has been the only batsman to score a century in the last 12 months, although Ul Haq has managed seven fifties in that period.
The Pakistan bowling has depended heavily on Ajmal who had 11 wickets in Guyana but on a track which should not offer him prodigious turn and bounce, the work of Rehman and Gul could be important. Devon Smith’s career seems over and Lendl Simmons’ new opening partner could be teenager Kraigg Braithwaite or a middle order batsman could be asked to open.
Twenty-two year Daren Bravo and experienced Ramnaresh Sarwan, both gifted stroke-makers, could be under pressure to make room for Marlon Samuels in the middle order, which has depended too much on Chanderpaul in recent times.
Carlton Baugh has 11 First-Class hundreds but continues to be reckless at International level while Sammy’s form does not inspire much confidence at number eight.
If Chanderpaul and Nash fail, batting could again be the West Indies problem although if Ravi Rampaul and Fidel Edwards share the new ball with back up from Sammy and leg-spinner Davendra Bishoo, West Indies could again be playing a bowler short as Pakistan hunt victory to avoid a series defeat.
A draw here will give West Indies only their fourth series win since 2003 and put them on course for a revival. It will also take them to number six on the ICC Test rankings. A loss could undo all the good work in Guyana and psychologically take the team even further back than when they began this series.
Can this team, under Sammy in only his fifth Test as Skipper re-create the feats of that 1973 summer? It is too early to say but the movement seems to be in the right direction.
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